A couple of months ago I wrote an article about the Western Conference and how close the race for the playoffs was. Today that is still the case with teams from fourth to 11th only separated by a handful of points. Why do I mention that again? Well, it would appear the same thing is happening, on a much smaller scale, in the Pacific Division. Dallas, San Jose, Anaheim, Phoenix and LA are all separated by five points. Five points! That is insane. It is the most closely fought division in the NHL and one where the lowest ranked team (LA) has six more points than the lowest ranked team in any other division.
Just a few games ago it looked like Dallas (65pts) were well on their way to capturing the Division title but they have hit a slump of late and lost their last three. San Jose (62pts) have finally found some form and are closing in on the Stars. Anaheim (62pts) and Phoenix (61pts) continue to have inconsistent seasons but find themselves in the hunt regardless and even LA (60pts) who have looked very poor at certain stages are still in with a shout should they go on a winning streak.
I would consider all five of these teams to be buyers during this trade window so it will be interesting to see who they pick up and who they move on. A quick word regarding what each of these teams might need follows:
Dallas Stars (30-18-5): Keeping a hold of Brad Richards past the trade deadline will be a massive bonus to the Stars who will need their number one centre to continue his goal scoring form if they want playoff success.
San Jose Sharks (28-19-6): Slowly generating some momentum, the San Jose Sharks look to be finally playing the sort of hockey we expect from them. If the Sharks' roster plays like we know they can, then they are Stanley Cup favourites, despite the fact that they suffer from post-season stage fright every year.
Anaheim Ducks (29-21-4): Getting Getzlaf back at some point will feel like the Ducks just acquired a top forward, so his return will give them an offensive boost (not that they have done badly since his injury). Where the Ducks do need to strengthen is in their defence.
Phoenix Coyotes (26-19-9): The Coyotes would make the playoffs with a legit 30+ goals a year man and a quick two-way defenseman. They also need to re-sign Bryzgalov and Yandle to long-term deals.
L.A. Kings (29-22-2): Offensively, other than Anze Kopitar, the Kings are fragile. If they improve in that area, without giving up too much, then they would see their chances of reaching the playoffs increase.
The Stars, Sharks and Kings have played 53 games and the Yotes and Ducks have played 54, so there is no massive advantage to be had from games in hand. The race is so close that we could see all five of the Pacific teams in the playoffs come the end of the season, which would be remarkable. This one is going to go right down to the wire. To borrow a line from the Desert Dogs: “Don't blink or you might miss something.”